A leading football agent who used to represent Raheem Sterling has broken Football Association rules by signing under-age players, according to evidence seen by BBC Panorama.
Aidy Ward also asked Mr Sterling to speak to a 15-year-old, as part of an attempt by Mr Ward to sign him.
Mr Ward, who owns Colossal Sports Management, said he could not comment.
The FA prohibits agents offering deals before 1 January in the year of a player’s 16th birthday.
The BBC understands that Mr Ward is already under investigation by the FA in relation to this incident, but the association has yet to conclude its inquiry.
Evidence seen by Panorama reveals how Mr Ward, at a dinner with a 15-year-old boy and his mother at a restaurant in London, video-called his most famous client Raheem Sterling and asked him to speak to the boy.
Mr Sterling’s lawyers told Panorama that as an England international he feels a responsibility to speak to aspiring players and has done so a couple of times at Mr Ward’s request.
However, he does not speak to them about agents or financial issues, and he supports FA rules designed to protect young players.
Mr Sterling, who has a small shareholding in Colossal given to him by Ward, dropped him as an agent late last year.
Mr Ward said he could not comment out of respect for the FA investigation.
Panorama has seen a series of leaked emails and messages that appear to show how Mr Ward has been trying to build his business by signing young players to his agency.
The programme has spoken to the parents of seven under-age footballers, who all say that Colossal had approached them offering their services.
Panorama has also seen the minutes of a Colossal meeting, which took place at a south London restaurant in 2017.
The email includes a list of players the agency wanted to sign – six of whom were 14 or younger at the time.
Mr Ward did not respond to these points when asked by Panorama.
Panorama has also spoken to a Premier League scout, who said that agencies like Colossal can often use underhand tactics to sign players.
Wishing to remain anonymous, he said: “They target a single-mum family because it’s easy. It all starts from a very, very young age.”
One former youth player, Foday Nabay, now 23, told the programme he was approached by Mr Ward when he was just 12 years old.
Mr Nabay, who was born in Sierra Leone and moved to England with his mother when he was six, was at the time playing with England’s under-16 squad, having become a star of Birmingham City’s youth academy.
Mr Nabay said he was happy at Birmingham but Mr Ward suggested a move to Fulham, who were in the Premier League at the time.
Mr Ward says he has never been Mr Nabay’s agent, but Panorama has obtained a series of confidential emails from 2013 that appear to contradict his claim.
In the emails, Fulham’s academy director, Huw Jennings, Mr Ward and another agent he was working with discussed the terms of Mr Nabay’s transfer, who was by then 14 years old.
The negotiations concluded with an offer from Fulham’s academy director to pay the agents their full fee – which was £120,000 – if the deal went through.
When Mr Nabay found out there were agency fees involved, he told Fulham he would only sign if they were not paid.
FA rules state an agent cannot request or receive any payment in relation to a transfer of an academy player before the year of their 16th birthday. Agents are also not allowed to make any approaches to the player or their family before that date.
Fulham did not answer the BBC’s detailed questions about Mr Nabay’s transfer, but said that the club had neither paid, nor agreed to pay, Mr Ward or the other agent in relation to the player’s registration with the club.
The FA says it thoroughly investigates all allegations of rule-breaking by agents, and that about 50 have been sanctioned over the last three years.
Mr Nabay signed with Fulham but was released by the club in March 2018, when he was 19.
He says he felt manipulated by Mr Ward for pushing him into a move he was never happy with.
“I was in my room 24/7, didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to do anything. I was really not in a good place,” he said.
Youth academies, which train talented players, can be big money-spinners.
Last summer, Premier League clubs earned at least £250m from selling their academy graduates.
Football finance expert Kieran Maguire said the problem goes beyond just one agent or one academy.
“The commoditisation of young footballers means they are now being viewed by some clubs as potential profit centres.” he said.